- Agronomic: potatoes
- Fruits: apples
- Vegetables: sweet potatoes, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, cucurbits, greens (leafy), onions, peppers, rutabagas, tomatoes, turnips
- Animal Products: dairy
- Education and Training: participatory research, workshop
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
- Sustainable Communities: partnerships, urban/rural integration
The last decade has seen rapid growth in the number of farm-to-school initiatives in the United States. Despite the proliferation of farm-to-school programs and the significant energy and resources that have gone into their implementation, there have been few systematic assessments of these initiatives.
We use the experience of the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch Project, a farm-to-school project in Madison, Wisconsin, as a lens through which to identify structural challenges faced by all farm-to-school initiatives and examine a variety of key tactical issues that are likely to be confronted during their implementation. We confirm that these initiatives can facilitate the acceptance and consumption of fresh vegetables by elementary school children. However, we find that the possibilities for connecting the land and the lunchroom are seriously constrained by the structure of most existing school lunch programs. These constraints include the overarching food culture, the quasi-privatized character of most school food services, the degree of industrialization of many school food services, issues of price, procurement and supply, and the need for processing facilities.
Through the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch project, we learned that enthusiastic leadership from the food service director is critical to the success of a farm-to- school project. A cooperative approach with food service staff needs to be complemented by judicious application of external pressures. There are promising opportunities for students to consume fresh foods in places other than the cafeteria. Finally, an educational component is as important a part of a farm-to-school program as the connections between farmers and the food service.
We hope that this report will initiate a wider discussion of how farm-to-school programs are performing and what contributions they are making to the development of a sustainable food system.
In the first two years of our project, Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch (WHL) identified key structural challenges that posed barriers to integrating local foods into the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) meal program. These key challenges included: a) a need for menu items incorporating more fresh produce and a wider variety of items, b) ability to process local produce into ‘ready-to-serve’ forms, and c) a better organized supply of foods from local farmers. In this second phase of WHL we attempted to overcome these challenges while expanding our successful educational programming in the Madison schools.
Education Objective: Elementary school students know the sources, characteristics, and taste of diverse varieties of locally grown, fresh produce and are receptive to new school lunch menu items consisting of or incorporating locally grown, fresh produce.
Menu Development Objective: School food service staff recognize opportunities and means of incorporating locally grown, fresh produce into school lunch menus and begin to incorporate new and local items into their school lunch menus.
Processing Objective: Willy St. Co-op staff identify the legal, regulatory, and technical requirements for use of the Co-op’s equipment by third parties (i.e., farmers) and develop administrative and technical protocols allowing such use.
Recruitment and Organizing Supply Objective: Local, sustainable fruit and vegetable farmers learn about the opportunities to produce for the Madison school food service market and begin to organize themselves in order to provide for this market and eventually additional institutional markets in the area.
Outreach Objective: Farmers and school food service staff in the Upper Midwest learn of the opportunities and challenges encountered by the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch project and use this knowledge and resources provided by WHL to initiate farm-to-school projects in their own communities.